As someone who teaches grad school (if only one semester a year), I was quite interested to read about the array of online ventures that are trying to provide new models for higher education in Anya Kamenetz’s September 2009 Fast Company feature, How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education. While some of the innovations revolve around major universities putting their content online for the outside world (besides online learning initiatives available to their own students), the article demonstrates that there is not one particular model that is winning out for how people who are not on a campus will take advantage of online learning. One thing that is clear is that only a select group of people can pay the eye-popping tuition prices of some our universities. If there is a way to receive, if not the exact experience someone would get by spending four years at Harvard, Stanford or similar schools, but something similar at a greatly reduced price and other barriers to entry, an educational revolution would be possible.

If prospective students can mix and match course content from a number of top professors and universities, our whole idea of what it means to be highly educated will change. If this can be accomplished at no cost, or a relatively inexpensive cost, there will be unlimited opportunities for for-profit and nonprofit organizations to apply not only the tools we have now, but those that will be developed in the future. Also check out the sidebar, 5 Startups to Watch, with thumbnail descriptions of 2tor Inc., EduFire, Grockit, Inigral and Knewton. What will happen if schools as we currently know them don’t fully adapt to the new technological possibilities? If that is the case, there is the chilling prospect, Kamenetz writes, that they “will find themselves on the wrong side of history, alongside newspaper chains and record stores.”